It's no secret that the individuals that make up your organization's Board of Directors play a vital role in your fundraising success. Regardless of your organization's size, status or mission, it is critical that board members engage in these five main fundraising responsibilities:
- First, they must make a personally significant financial contribution.
It is imperative that an organization can demonstrate that 100% of the board has made an annual contribution. As those closest to the organization, giving must start from the inside. You can't ask others to do what your organization’s leaders are not willing to do.
While the size of the gift isn't important, participation is essential, and their total giving should place your organization in the board members' top 3 philanthropic priorities.
- Board members should have a strong understanding of fundraising goals, plans, strategies, and outcomes.
While the board should not be involved in the day-to-day operations, they should understand the overall fundraising goals and how the team is working to achieve them. Having a clear understanding of what the staff is working to achieve and what strategies they are using to accomplish the goals allows board members to exhibit good governance and better understand how they can be helpful.
For example, if the organization has a goal of increasing individual giving by 20% and one of the strategies is to launch a monthly giving program, board members should encourage the donors/prospects they know to become monthly donors.
- Be an ambassador by sharing their commitment and passion as well as the organization's mission and vision.
A significant role of the board is to help generate awareness for the organization by amplifying its messaging. Each board member brings a personal and professional network that they should make aware of the organization for which they serve as a board member. Even if this doesn't directly translate into financial gifts, greater awareness about the organization's work and positive exposure can enhance the organization's reputation and public image.
And, there's no better way to convey the organization's impactful work than to share their passion. I always encourage board members to have a personalized elevator speech that they can use to share why they sit on the board, why they are passionate about the cause, and what they find most inspiring about the organization.
- Support fundraising activities and events.
Board members should have solid representation at fundraising events and community activities so that donors/supporters have a chance to meet and interact with them.
Additionally, going back to responsibility #1, this is an easy way to provide their financial support and encourage others to attend with them. I'm a strong proponent of board members buying a table – or even just a few extra seats/tickets – and inviting colleagues and friends to join them at the next fundraising event.
- Where needed, assist staff with the donor development cycle – identify, cultivate, solicit, and steward.
The truth is most nonprofit fundraising teams are understaffed. There's always more work that can be done than there are hours in the day for a small fundraising team to accomplish. Board members can and should help fill this gap by taking direction from the staff on how they can assist. Just a few of these include:
- Making introductions to their network of friends and colleagues who may be interested in getting involved in the organization as a donor, volunteer, advocate, etc.
- Tapping into their professional networks for the donation of goods and services that would help the organization meet its mission.
- Working alongside staff to strengthen relationships with donors. This can be as simple as fulfilling responsibility #4 of attending events and mingling with guests to share their passion and commitment. Or it can be more strategic where the board member takes an active role in the cultivation plans the staff have developed for a specific donor.
- Attending a solicitation meeting with staff. For various reasons (too many to name here), major gifts are often best solicited with more than one person representing the nonprofit. These "asks" are also usually best done by a peer (a fellow leader in the community, someone in a similar professional role, etc.) and by someone who can speak to their passion for giving to the organization. For these reasons, board members can play a critical role in solicitations.
As a nonprofit executive, the best way to maximize your organization's fundraising efforts is to ensure that each board member understands the above responsibilities. Be sure they are reflected in your board member expectations handbook and regularly referenced in recruitment, orientation, and ongoing board communications.
Need help? Reach out to Detroit Philanthropy to learn more about how a board training session that dives deep into these five responsibilities can benefit your fundraising goals.
About Rachel M. Decker
Having spent nearly 20 years in the nonprofit sector as an effective and strategic fundraising and foundation executive, Detroit Philanthropy Founder and President, Rachel Decker is passionate about helping others, making meaningful connections, solving problems and, most importantly, creating impact in our community. With the founding of Detroit Philanthropy, she turned that passion into a commitment to champion philanthropy throughout metro Detroit as a philanthropic advisor, fundraising consultant and speaker.